toxic jobs

Personal stories about toxic jobs and workplace woes.

June 02, 2012

involuntary volunteers

Rhiannon is a newly married graduate, 21, whose priority right now is getting her home furnished and settling down to married life before finding her first job. In doing so Rhiannon experienced a side of life for which her education did not prepare her.

"There is a goodwill shop near where I live with some good second-hand stuff for the house," says Rhiannon. "They had a sign up wanting volunteers and I thought I'd offer my services. I liked the idea of spending time in a place where I might be able to pick up some bargains, and even though I never thought of it as being my first job I suppose it was!"

"The shop is run mainly by elderly ladies and they were very happy to have me volunteer my services," laughs Rhiannon. "I felt a bit out of place at first - these women were older than my grandmother! - but they were so charming and friendly to me."

"This all changed within a few days at the shop when I saw a side to voluntary work that I did not like at all," says Rhiannon.

"I did not know that voluntary work is being used as a punishment in our society," says Rhiannon. "It is undertaken either as a requirement of receiving unemployment benefits or as a sentence for committing a minor offence."

"At the back of the shop the rag pickers worked - mostly unemployed women - and in the yard the pick-up and delivery people worked - mostly petty criminals doing 'time' in community service."

"I was most upset to learn that for a lot of volunteers the work is not voluntary at all, says Rhiannon. "It is forced on people as a punishment for committing a minor crime or being unemployed and requiring welfare payments."

When Rhiannon realized that voluntary work is nothing more than forced labor for some sections of society, she felt very uncomfortable working at the shop.

"The woman in charge of the shop came in on Mondays and really treated the involuntary volunteers like dirt," says Rhiannon.

"When I was introduced to her she looked down her nose at me and then she changed her tune completely when she discovered I was a voluntary volunteer."

"I didn't want to be treated like a criminal or a deadbeat," confides Rhiannon, "and I didn't want to work with them either - so I quit the job a few days later."

"Actually," adds Rhiannon, "it was the woman in charge who really turned me off."

"I didn't have much to do with the involuntary workers - they were pleasant enough to me when I had to speak to them - and I felt very sorry for the unemployed women who worked as rag pickers for no other reason than they couldn't find a job."

"The woman in charge really gave the rag pickers hell," says Rhiannon. "When one lady went home sick one Monday the woman in charge went berserk."

"She claimed that the lady was lying and was shirking her duties and threatened to report her to Welfare."

"I couldn't work in a place like that - not for money and certainly not for free - so it was a relief to be able to leave as voluntarily as I started."

"As far as I'm concerned the shop was ill-named," says Rhiannon. "Apart from the old ladies, there was not much goodwill there at all. The whole experience was a shock to my system - is this what working life is really like? Am I going to experience something similar in a real job?"

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